This series of Living Legends is about Vida McLellan, a missionary nurse who served in Ethiopia from 1955 – 1974. Vida grew up on a farm in the out-back of New South Wales. In 1955, after nurses’ training and Bible College, she travelled to Ethiopia to serve in very remote and difficult areas in southern Ethiopia. Vida, married Dick McLellan, while at language school in 1955. For sixty years Vida has served alongside Dick both in Ethiopia and after their return to Australia. The last episode covered Vida’s nurse training in Australia. In this episode we follow Vida to Ethiopia.
Vida served on Peel Island in WA, an island where Leprosy patients were isolated. Dick, her boyfriend, was traveling around Australia, raising support for his mission work to commence in Ehtiopia. She met with Dick in Wynnum QLD for a few days on his tour and on the 13th September, 1954, they announced their engagement. Dick returned to Sydney the next day, and a few days later on September 24th he sailed by boat to Aden, then flew Ethiopian Airlines to Ethiopia to start his missionary work. Vida had no idea when she would see him again or hear from him. Vida returned to Peel island and promptly sewed a wedding dress and other dresses to take to Ethiopia.
Vida returned to Sydney. Let’s pick up the story in Vida’s own words:
From then on it was a very busy time with meetings, getting the huge kit together that I was requested to take. A dentist provided some dental instruments and a doctor donated some medical equipment like needles, syringes, sutures and instruments for medical work. I was told to take sufficient supplies to last the five years until we came home on our first furlough.
All our goods were packed in fortyfour gallon drums to go by ship and we could take a lot of luggage with us on the ship. There seemed to be so much to get done but somehow we made it. I think I have been packing and unpacking all my life.
Our ship, the Oronsay, sailed in April, 1955. There were people at the wharf to see us off. So many friends were there, friends from the Bible College, SIM and the Postal Sunday School, and just so many others. It was a very emotional time. Before we boarded the ship different friends prayed for us, I was holding back the tears quite well, but then they started to sing Blest Be the Tide that Binds and God be with You till We meet Again. Our first stop was Melbourne, then Fremantle. From Fremantle we sailed across the Indian Ocean for the port of Aden.
From Aden we flew to Addis Ababa the capitol city of Ethiopia. At the airport we were met by Mr Glen Cain who was an Australian missionary and the SIM Director for Ethiopia. This was in May of 1955. I had expected Dick to be there to meet us at the airport in Addis, when we arrived from Australia, but he wasn’t. He had gone away ‘somewhere’ into southern Ethiopia. Soon after our arrival Mr Cain asked me to look after his wife, Winifred, who came from New Zealand. She was suffering greatly with depression after losing their son in a drowning accident. After some time I went to language school for six months. The time at language school for those six months was not easy. Everything was all so new to me. We had an excellent language school teacher, Miss Freda Horn, who had a good sense of humour and lots of patience with us all — with me in particular. I still had no idea what was going on with Dick. Had he had been eaten by cannibals or what? I was up at Debre Berhan at Language school during that time and supposed to be engaged, but I couldn’t receive any word of Dick.
Dick and another young missionary from England, Bill Carter, had been sent down into southern Ethiopia. When Dick had arrived in Ethiopia back in October of 1954 he had gone to Language School for a few weeks, but then he and Bill were sent down to build the missionary houses and a clinic at a place called Bako. They only knew a little of the language. Dick had no way of getting mail in or out during this time. This was an entire year. They were isolated there. The last I had heard from Dick was in a letter before I had left Australia when he had written about the truck that had taken all their goods into another place on the way called Bulki. On climbing up the mountain into Bulki the truck had broken its differential and rolled down the side of the mountain. It was a very steep mountain. They had tried to rescue some of their things and building supplies. He had one picture of Bill Carter holding up the tea pot he had found. Bill was a great tea drinker. They got the goods they had saved up to Bulki town and were there a week or more arranging to get their things packed onto mules, donkeys and head-carriers. Everything had to be carried that way into Bako. Bill and Dick rode by mule for four or five days. They had even taken a wheel barrow. Rather than wheel it along the Ethiopian who was going to take the wheel barrow put it up on top of his head to carry because he had no idea how to use it.
To be continued…